At a time when the entire planet is more-or-less united in a time-sensitive mission to cut down on pollution, electric bikes present a potentially game-changing solution. For commuters who would love to travel greener, but haven’t found an option simple or easy enough, electric bikes seem to present a happy medium. E-bikes are faster than bicycles and take less effort to ride, while being more efficient and more versatile than mopeds.
Over the last several years, cities all over the world have put e-bikes to the test, making them available through ride-share systems. At the same time, individuals have chosen to invest in this new technology themselves, either purchasing their own electric bike or turning to bike rentals on an as-needed basis. This global experiment has revealed new insights into the natural evolution of transportation. We are beginning to understand what the increasing popularity of e-bikes could mean for our major cities.
Here are a handful of ways these two-wheeled wonders are changing our world.
Reduction in the Use of Cars and Transit
A study in the Netherlands has shown that electric bikes are more effective in converting car users to two-wheeled transportation than traditional bicycles. This is, of course, unsurprising. For many urban commuters, bicycles remain an imperfect alternative to automobiles, especially when there is a lot of ground to cover.
Those who must travel more than several blocks to get to work often reject cycling because they don’t want to show up for their jobs sweaty and worn out. Depending on geographic location, they could have steep hills or challenging terrain between themselves and their place of business. They have to carry a computer bag to the office and pick up a few groceries on the way home. Combine all these factors, and cycling to work sounds like a separate job in and of itself.
Electric bikes, on the other hand, allow commuters to travel farther with less effort. These bikes often feature more storage, and the speed of an e-bike is not contingent upon the rider’s fitness level. In other words, the electric bike provides an efficient, easy option for those who would love to go green, but don’t want to sacrifice the convenience of a car. As a result, many cities have already seen a reduction in the number of cars on the road and in the use of public transit.
With fewer people using cars, it follows that city streets gradually become less congested. But this doesn’t only apply to the roads. As more commuters take to two wheels, trains and buses are less crowded and less overwhelming to navigate for commuters who do not (or cannot) travel by bicycle.
On that note, some have raised concern that the rise of e-bikes could affect public transit’s ridership numbers, thus causing a decrease in demand and a decrease in funding. This is a legitimate concern, as the transit system remains an important player in the effort towards greener transportation and accessibility for the elderly and individuals with disabilities. Regardless, e-bikes have already provided some relief for strained transit systems in those European cities where the majority of commuters choose to travel by bus and rail.
In the current global emissions crisis, how much do e-bikes really stand to help us?
Well, quite a bit. Transportation is the top emitter in the U.S. In many of China’s major cities, roughly one-third of smog comes from vehicle emissions. And e-bikes? They’re battery-operated and require far, far less energy to manufacture, transport, and use.
Electric Bikes Make Cities More Accessible
While the conversation surrounding electric bicycles often comes down to pollution and urban congestion, they also pose a potential economic benefits for lower income neighborhoods. Individuals who cannot afford a car face further economic limitations as they can only seek employment within a small radius. Now, the introduction of the electric bike brings with it new opportunities. Low-income cyclists can travel farther, discovering a wider range of employment options.
Beyond economic challenges, e-bikes make two-wheeled transportation accessible for older adults and those with physical limitations. Use of a road bike comes with certain fitness demands. An electric bike, however, is a real option for a wider range of people.
Inspire New Cycling Infrastructure
There is no denying that America’s love of automobiles has shaped the design of our entire nation. Urban design serves the transportation habits of citizens, and as more and more people take to electric bikes, we’re bound to see more cyclist-friendly infrastructure. More bike lanes, more bike corrals, and more bike paths.
Hopefully, we’ll also see more specific policies regarding this form of transportation. This brings us to our final point.
The Ongoing Question of Electric Bikes and Safety
The rise of electric bikes holds great promise for environmental health and the quality of life in our major cities. That said, the meteoric rise of this new technology has revealed some major kinks in the system, most of which center around the topic of safety.
Cities all over the globe are quickly learning that e-bikes call for more regulation than regular bicycles . . . and perhaps more education for the general public. China has famously struggled with safety issues as urban commuters got on board with the e-bicycle revolution seemingly overnight. With no laws, no regulations, and no major changes in infrastructure, many Chinese cities ultimately banned e-bikes due to high incidents of related traffic accidents and fatalities. While the outcome has not been quite so dramatic in other urban areas, every city now grapples with the question of licensing, traffic laws, and other safety matters. How do we regulate a vehicle that’s definitely not a motorcycle but is still technically a motor vehicle?
As it currently stands, it seems most cities will choose to find their way rather than dismiss electric bikes altogether. In an age when the environmentally conscious are working overtime to effectively market greener lifestyles, the mere design of the e-bike represents a practical, workable solution. It presents the potential for real progress . . . fast progress.
Are Electric Bikes for You?
What about you? Have you taken an electric bike for a spin, yet?
If you’re curious, we invite you to search for an electric bike rental in your area. The listers on Spinlister are local cyclists and bike shops with quality bikes to share . . . and probably a few pointers on riding electric around town. Or, if you own an electric bike, consider listing your own ride, earning some cash, and making two-wheeled travel even more accessible in your town.
Either way, we’re here to help get more wheels on the road.